Friday, December 8, 2017

My Love And Longing For Padmavati

Parallel Lines I Exploring beyond Padmavati, her beauty and Khilji.

Our Hindi textbook for class ninth had the extract from Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic, Padmavat from which I first learned about the beautiful princess and the talking parrot Hiraman. Then I was a student at Dronacharya High school, Done (Siwan), three kilometres from Daraily Mathia—my village in a remote corner of Bihar state of India.
It was in early 1970’s. I was barely 13 or 14 year old. I enjoyed it more when our Hindi teacher, Sita Sharan Verma explained the Premakhyan (love story) of Padmavati—princess of Singhaldweep in Sri Lanka and Ratansen, king of Chittaur in Rajasthan. Padmavat was written in Awadhi language. It required Sita Sharan ji to explain the verses in Awadhi to make us understand.
In retrospect, I think that I enjoyed it more because I had reached the threshold of the age when I had got curious about the girls and was getting attracted to them. The story involving romance and love would fascinate me.
Secondly, the chapter had a talking parrot that I could easily associate with. In our neighbourhood, there lived a very old woman who had a parrot as pet. That parrot chanted “SitaRam-SitaRam”. The old woman would let us be close to the cage of the parrot and play with it.
While teaching us the Padmavat chapter, our Master Sahib—it is how we reverentially called Sita Sharan ji—would tell the story:
“Padmavati had befriended the talking parrot Hiraman. Her father was angry at his daughter befriending the parrot and ordered the parrot be killed. But the bird, somehow, escaped and flew to Chittaur where a bird catcher caught it and handed it over to Chittaur king, Ratansen.
The parrot described the beauty of Padmavati to the king. Fascinated by the parrot’s description, Ratansen with his Army and with the parrot as his guide reached Singhaldweep after crossing saat-samunder (seven seas). There, Ratansen disguised himself into an ascetic and began living an austere life in a temple.
The Hiraman parrot then flew to Padmini and revealed how the king from Chittaur had turned ascetic for her. Padmavati went to the temple but returned without meeting him, though, she too began longing for the Chittaur king.
Ratansen’s penance drew the attention of temple deities, Shiva and Parvati who blessed the king to invade and defeat the Singhaldweep king, Gandharvasen and capture the beautiful princess in love with him. Ratansen in the disguise of an ascetic and his army men attacked Gandharvasen’s fort but were captured by Gandharvasen.
As Gandharvasen ordered the execution of Ratansen, a Ratansen’s bard revealed his actual identity to Gandharvasen. Gandharvasen then married off his beautiful daughter to Ratansen and gave 1600 more Padmini women—known for their beauty in Singhaldweep—to Ratansen.
Ratansen encountered many hurdles including the wrath of the Sea God on his return journey to Chittaur. On his return to Chittaur, Ratansen faced competition from both Padmavati and his first wife, Nagmati to get his attention and love. He would sleep alternatively with the two women to buy peace.
Meanwhile, Ratansen banished a Brahmin, Raghav Chetan for winning a contest fraudulently but Padmavati gave her bangles to the Brahmin which he took to King Alauddin Khilji, explaining Padmavati’s peerless beauty. Khilji attacked Chittaur, defeating and capturing Ratansen and bringing him to Delhi—his headquarters.
Padmavati asked Gora and Badal to help her free Ratansen. Gora and Badal, disguised as Padmavati, entered the Khilji’s fort but Gora was killed, combating and Badal rescued Ratansen, taking him back to Chittaur.
During Ratansen’s absence, the Kumbhalner king, Devpal tried to marry Padmavati. Ratansen took it as affront and decided to kill Devpal. But Ratansen and Devpal ended up killing each other. Nagmati and Padmavati committed sati (self—immolation) on Ratansen’s pyre. Meanwhile, Alauddin Khilji invaded Chittaur. Faced with imminent defeat, the women of the fort taking a cue from Padmavati and Nagmati committed jauhar (mass self-immolation) while the men died, fighting. Alauddin captured the empty fort and thus, the victory was denied to him”.
I used to be in rapt attention when our Master Sahib narrated the story, dreaming about the beautiful girls and trying to find out if there was any girl like Padmavati in my neighbourhood. I don’t know if Alauddin Khilji dreamed of Padmavaty. But she invariably would come in my dream when I was crossing my adolescence.
Perhaps, the Padmavati-Ratansen story and other such stories being told in our school and villages by cowherds, shepherds and peasants sowed the seed of my interest in the folktales. I was born and brought up in the village which had little connection with the world beyond its boundary. Community life was central to our existence. We would play with dogs, sparrows, goats and calves and grew listening to folktales and folklores—the lone source of entertainment and knowledge.
In fact, my upcoming book—Greatest Folktales from Bihar—is a collection of the folktales that I heard and gathered, growing up in my village.  The book under the process of Publication by RUPA (India) does not have the Padmini-Ratansen saga but it has equally powerful Saranga-Sadabrij love story apart from three dozens of other stories which have stayed on the people’s lips for generations but have not been recorded so far.
When it comes to history, let us examine certain sequence of events. The Delhi Sultan, Alauddin Khilji laid the siege of Chittaur in 1303 with the motive to expand his empire.
The great Sufi saint poet, Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic, Padmavat belongs to1520-40—over two hundred years after Alauddin raided Chittaur. If anything, Jayasi’s work is a great experiment in folktale telling. The Alauddin-Padmavati-Ratansen saga would find it hard to meet the parameters of history.
But Padmavati is, surely, a great example in the author’s rich imagination. Jayasi must have used the contemporary folklore as the basis for authoring his epic, Padmavat. I am tempted to believe that he would have brought Alauddin Khilji to give a context to his story. It is hard to tell if Padmavati was a historical figure or not. But thanks to Jayasi’s power of imagination, Padmavati is an epitome and embodiment of beauty dominating the heart and mind of the people in the Indian sub-continent for well over five centuries.
I don’t have requisite expertise either in history or films and have nothing much to say about Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmavati. In fact, I find the hue and cry on the film quite boring, boorish and uncalled for. By creating unseemly controversy on it, the Rajputs are, in a way, promoting and popularising the film. Now,  the Deoband clerics too have joined the chorus, demanding a ban on Padmini, claiming that the Delhi Sultan, Alauddin Khilji –a great and able administrator of his time—has been wrongly portrayed in the film as cruel and womaniser.
There is another folktale highlighting the need to save the Hiraman parrots—the rare wild species. It is believed that when Alauddin Khilji attacked the Gagron Fort around 1300 his army failed to locate the route to the fort. At that time, these parrots irritated Khilji’s army by imitating Alauddin and his soldiers. This angered Alauddin so much that he ordered that all the trees in the area should be burnt. As a result, thousands of Hiraman parrots were burnt to death. After this, the remaining parrots took shelter in the Gagron Fort. This fort, which was under Bahadur Shah, was later conquered by Humayun. After this victory, everything in the fort was sent to Humayun at Mandsor. The possessions included Bahadur Shah’s pet Hiraman. It comes in the category of rare wildlife species. Caging birds has almost brought the Hiraman parrot to the verge of extinction. The increasing demand for Hiraman at home and abroad has finished this species in the last decade. Today, even in the region of Gagron, the Hiraman is rarely seen.
Efforts should be made to conserve and preserve Hiraman parrots.
CREDIT: Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Padmavat, Sita Sharan Verma, Piyush Pachak, The Tribune, Divya Chariyan—The Many Padminis, The Hindu.
(Senior journalist Nalin Verma’s Parallel Lines column is more than a decade old, and now eNewsroom readers will get to read it regularly)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Eventually he got her

By Nalin Verma

Nandji was my childhood friend. We lived and played together. We did not go to school in our early childhood days because our village had no school. But we were enrolled in a school five miles away from our village as we grew a little older. Both of us were probably 12 year old when we started going to the D. H. High School, Done. We covered the distance from home to school and vice versa on foot as there was no other means of conveyance.

Staying together for more than eight hours everyday cemented our bond of friendship more. Both of us belonged to different family background. Still we were friends. Nandji was the son of a small time shop keeper. His father Lakhi Sahu sold petty items like kerosene oil, candles, spices and vegetables to villagers. His was the only shop to cater to over 200 people in the village. But still his was a poor family. Nandjis father did not have enough money to invest in business and become what you may refer to as a businessman of some meaning. Moreover, the villagers surviving on cattle raising and small holdings had little to purchase. It was more like a pastoral village. There was no scope for business to flourish.

Lakhi Sahu was an illiterate person. His illiteracy came in the way of business. So he wanted his son to attain the learning that could enable him to maintain the account of his customers the money given by them in lieu of goods. I belonged to a rather more poor family. But my father was a teacher in a Primary School. Though he himself was not that much educated he wanted me to read and become a well educated person. Educating me was in his top priority. "Son, I will cut on the expenses of my cloths and food to meet your education expenses. I am a poor man but I want you to become an educated person", he invariably told me. He wanted to send me in the city and admit me in a good college after the completion of my secondary level of education.

I and Nandji appeared at the Secondary level examination in late 1970s. I passed the examination with good marks. My bosom friend failed in all the subjects. But then he had learnt to maintain the account of his customers and the money. And that was what his father expected from him. "I did not want Nandji to pass out and go elsewhere for learning more", Lakhi Sahu said reacting on the results. "I am happy at the result. Nandji knows more than what I know that's all, I am satisfied."

Now Nandjis father was eager to get his son married. Nandji was 16 year old and was almost on the verge of "crossing" the age prescribed for marriage. People of my village like those in other villages around believed that if one started getting hairs on ones upper lips, one had crossed the age of marriage. And the girls must be married before attaining the puberty. The Indian law prescribes that only an adult (18 year old) can marry. But not to speak of going by the law, the the villagers even did not know what the law on marriage was. They had their own laws to guide them in marriage and other family customs.

For Lakhi Sahu, going by the law would have meant letting his son cross the "marriageable age". Then other villagers would have looked down upon him for keeping his son a bachelor. "My first duty is to marry my son and then die in peace", Lakhi Sahu used to say. It was hard to find a bride for the boy who had full hair grown on his upper lips and had crossed the age of 16. Marrying the offspring was the responsibility of parents. No one had right to chose his or her mate on their own.

The groom does not see his bride or vice versa till they are tied in nuptial knots even today at my village and several other villages of Bihar state of India. So Lakhi Sahu married his son to a girl belonging to neighboring village with great fanfare. But then there was another problem. Nandji was eager to meet his wife, feel her and taste her. After all, he was a healthy young man. "I am dying to meet her (wife), I want to see her face, I want to kiss her, I want to hold her in my arms, I want to make love with her", Nandji used to say to me and other friends.

But the father did not want the son to sleep with his wife and enjoy sex at such an early age. Coition at early age would have meant loss of health. "Those who avoid sex early in life become robust; sex at the age of 16 or so means loss of energy which can not be compensated", Lakhi Sahu used to say. He was not at fault. All other old people of the village shared his belief.

Lakhi Sahu decided to guard his son from meeting the girl. After all, the father had to take care of his sons health. Lakhi Sahu used to lay his bench and sleep right at the door of the room in which Ramaiya (Nandji's wife)) lived after the sun set. It was to ensure that his son could not sneak into Ramaiyas room stealthily in night. Besides, he repeatedly exhorted his son to avoid the company of his wife till he (Nandji) attained 25 years of age and became robust enough to enjoy sex and family life.

But Nandji found the separation unbearable. Particularly when he had his wife at his home. He had not even seen his wife in 10 days of marriage. But he could not have expressed his desire to his father. Young man could not discuss sex with elderly people. It was against the norms. So he shared his feelings with me and other close friends of his age. Though I was his friend I derived pleasure from his desperation to meet his wife.

He asked me about some clues to meet his wife. I could not help him much. But some other young lads of the village suggested him the clue. They knew of his fathers habit of drinking toddy every evening and then going into deep slumber. They suggested Nandji to dig a big hole by a shovel in the rear wall of the room accommodating his wife and sneak into it through the hole when Lakhi was fast asleep. Making the hole in the wall was not difficult since the house was made up of earth and mud. Virtually dying to meet his wife for the last 10 days, Nandji followed the suggestion of friends and finally succeeded to get in.

Lakhi Sahu got up early in the morning and went to back side of his house to feed his cattle. But then he noticed the hole. He first thought of thieves and hurriedly entered into the room. But he found Nandji and his wife lying in each others arms in an unconscious state. He came out shouting: "my son has been spoiled". Angry as he was he picked up a baton to punish the boy for indulging in "sinful" act.

The commotion outside jerked Nandji out of his sleep. Nandji sensed the catastrophe to overtake him soon. He fled bare footed and half naked. Other villagers gathered around to assuage the anger of Lakhi Sahu. "Lakhi, be normal, heaven has not fallen, it happens..", I heard my father counseling Lakhi. Lakhi could not have punished the bride for a father was not supposed to even touch the body of daughter in law according to the norms and tradition of the village. ends.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ghalib's verses that I like

Hazaaron khwahishen aisi ke har khwahish pe dam nikle
Bohat niklay mere armaan, lekin phir bhi kam nikle

Daray kyon mera qaatil? kya rahega us ki gardan par?
Voh khoon, jo chashm-e-tar se umr bhar yoon dam-ba-dam nikle

Daray kyon mera qaatil? kya rahega us ki gardan par?
Voh khoon, jo chashm-e-tar se umr bhar yoon dam-ba-dam nikle

Nikalna khuld se aadam ka soonte aaye hain lekin
Bahot be-aabru hokar tere kooche se hum nikle

Bharam khul jaaye zaalim! teri qaamat ki daraazi ka
Agar is tarahe par pech-o-kham ka pech-o-kham nikle

Magar likhvaaye koi usko khat, to hum se likhvaaye
Hui subaha, aur ghar se kaan par rakh kar qalam nikle

Hui is daur mein mansoob mujh se baada aashaami
Phir aaya voh zamaana, jo jahaan mein jaam-e-jaam nikle

Hui jin se tavaqqa khastagi ki daad paane ki
Voh ham se bhi zyaada khasta e tegh e sitam nikle

Mohabbat mein nahin hai farq jeenay aur marnay ka
Usi ko dekh kar jeetay hain, jis kaafir pe dam nikle

Zara kar jor seene par ki teer-e-pursitam niklejo
Wo nikle to dil nikle, jo dil nikle to dam nikle

Khuda ke waaste parda na kaabe se uthaa zaalim
Kaheen aisa na ho yaan bhi wahi kaafir sanam nikle

Kahaan maikhane ka darwaaza Ghalib aur kahaan vaaiz
Par itna jaantay hain kal voh jaata tha ke ham nikle

Hazaaron khwahishen aisi ke har khwahish pe dam nikle
Bohat niklay mere armaan, lekin phir bhi kam nikle

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Light of Bygone Days

Sukath Choudhary is dead. So is my father. But my village, thrown carelessly on the map of Bihar state of India is still there.

I love my village for it nurtured me and saw me through my wonder years. And it has zealously treasured my memories. I still remember the half naked grazier locked in verbal duel with my father. My father offered the man some money to graze the family cow. "Don't try to fool me with these pieces of paper, after all, I have guarded your cow in the blazing sun for months together", Sukath shouted throwing the money back at my father. Father was a bit bewildered. But an archetypal villager that he was he soon sensed that Sukath was alien to currency notes. So he handed him a few coins instead. "Yes! now you have given me genuine money. I will purchase tobacco with it.

Sukath Choudhary lived in the world of his own. It was the world of cows, calves and bulls. He talked to bovines and they responded to him. He lived among them all the time. Sometimes on the bank of the canal and sometimes in the barren fields on the outskirts of the village (Daraily Mathia in Siwan district), he was seen amidst hundreds of cattle.

He did not remember when he started spending all his time in the company of the longhorns. "My parents enlisted me to look after the cows even before I began to wear clothes !" Sukath told me. My curiosity drove me to explore about the herdsman in his late 60's.I frequently saw him escorting the four-footed at the canal. It was in mid 1970's when I was in my teens. I initially thought Sukhath had hundreds of cows and calves in his possession. No farmer in my village owned more than three to four cows. One fine morning I found the answer of my own queries when my father asked me to take our cow to Sukath. Sukath was the caretaker of the cows of several other farmers besides those of to his own. Every morning I took our cow to Sukath . And every evening I used to bring the creature back home. This routine enabled me learn more about Sukath. Clad in a soiled dhoti and holding a baton on his shoulder, Sukath was always lording over his animal kingdom. Sukaths knowledge of words was limited to "hat...hooh....aaha...hurr" which he frequently uttered to command his subjects.

He had little time to interact with other people of the village. His day began at the crack of the dawn. With a bundle of sattu (powder of fried grains) on his back, Sukath left home with his four-footed friends. And he returned home after the sunset to sleep by the side of cattle at his door.

I remember another story associated with Sukath. and the helcyon days of my childhood. I still enjoy telling it to my children. A village lad, Mangru opened a tea stall on the canal on the outskirts of the village. Mangru had graduated in preparing tea while working as labourer in a restaurant somewhere in Punjab. Most of the old people in my village were not aware of this "hot" beverage then. Sukath was walking lazily along the canal while his cows were grazing in the nearby barren field. Mangru offered an earthen vessel with tea to Sukath. Sukath readily took the vessel and raised it to his lips. And then all hell broke loose.

Sukath started beating Mangru with his baton. "You have given me poison, it burnt my lips, I will not spare you", Sukath was screaming loudly. The shopkeeper, bruised and battered, somehow escaped with his life. Other people gathered around to convince Sukath that tea was not a poison. It is consumed slowly, it would not burn his tongue. But Sukath was not convinced.

Mangru was my neighbour. The same evening I saw Sukath standing at Mangrus door. He was holding a vessel full of milk. "Come out Mangru", he shouted. Mangru, still bruised hobbled out. Sukath said: "Take this milk, boil it, add haldi (turmeric) to it and drink it. You will be relieved of your aches." Then he explained, "I beat you because you were playing a prank on me. You are now a grown up man, stop playing tricks on old people". Mangru accepted the milk meekly and peace was restored.

Sukath had no enemies. His needs were limited. He was more than content with his bovine friends. He was closest to what I know of a happy man.

Recently on my visit to my village, I heard Sukath had passed away. He had three sons. His eldest son died of tuberculosis. The second son died in a road accident. The third Harekrishna is alive. Sixteen year old Harekrishna is married to the 32 year old widow to his eldest brother. He is an active member of a an underground naxalite outfit which has gained grounds in my village.

"Clever people fooled my innocent father, they paid him only a rupee for an entire month of grazing their cows", says Harekrishna adding: "I am not going to carry on what my father did. He led an animals life".

Unlike his late father Harekrishna is aware of his rights. He works as a farm labourer. "But no one dares to pay me less than the prescribed wage." Harekrishna and his generation is aware of currency notes and coins. His father would be an anachronism today.

Several tea shops and paan shops have come up along the canal. People are aware of tea and paan. They keep their cows in shed or nearby their doors. There is no Sukath to lead the herds.

But with passing away of Sukath, peace and harmony have also disappeared from my village. It too is plagued by trouble and unrest like several other villages in Bihar state of India.

The upper castes and the lower castes are war path. The society is divided. People do not gather as they used to. Friendliness and good neighbourliness has been replaced by distrust and suspicion.

The baton that Sukath carried is out of fashion now. Firearms have replaced it. Mangru is still alive. When reminded of Sukaths assault on him, Mangru becomes nostalgic. He says: "Babu (gentle man), do you remember how Sukath bhai offered me milk after beating me." And adds: "The injury caused by guns will not be cured by hot milk and turmeric

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Crow and Swan


Crow: Why are we not figuring in the tales/ stories today? We used to play main characters in Panchatantra, Puranas and Ramayana

Swan: Oh crow! You are the fool of first order. You were smart and clever during panchtantra/ purana days. You are no longer the same. You had access to gods and saints those days. Today, you can not even think of getting close to Manmohan Singh, L K Advani or Sonia Gandhi, not to speak of gods, goddesses and saints.

Your days are over. Shobha De, Salman Rushdies, Sashi Tharoors, Jhumpa Lahiris, Arundhati Roy- all are looking for good looking characters…nice figures…sex appeal.

Crow: Swan! Please stop your monologue. The stories of Shobha Des, Rudies, Tharoors and others of their ilk will not have as long life as those in Panchatantra, Puranas, Tripitakas and Jatakas have. Their stories will die with their death or at best a few years after.

Swan: Crow, you always have been clever, farsighted and discerning. It is time for us to keep a low profile

Saturday, October 15, 2011

“Maya maha thagini ham jaani”


“Maya” is a word that the Indian mystics and saints have, invariably, used to communicate that the world is a temporary entity…it is just an ephemeral thing to which one should not have too much attachment. However, the na├»ve human beings take the world and environment around them as ultimate reality and do everything to attain the worldly pleasure. The enlightened bards through their messages have always tried to suggest that the detachment from the “illusory” world is the way to liberation.

By saying, “Maya maha thagini ham jaani”, Kabir Das- a saint poet- has tried to emphasize that the attachment to the world amounts to getting deceived.

Please don’t think that I am trying to impose on you my knowledge about Indian metaphysics here. What has led me to quote this Kabir’s message is its use by an Uttar Pradesh’s BJP leader, Kalraj Mishra at a meeting with the party patriarch, L K Advani on his jan chetna yatra (people’s awareness campaign) at Varanasi on October 13.

Kalraj Mishra used it to tell the audience that saint Kabir had predicted centuries ago that U. P would see a “Maya (Mayawati) coming to cheat the people”.

Let me tell you here that I am not a spiritual person. Moreover, I have limited knowledge about Indian saints and metaphysics. I strongly believe that many people around me might have been more enlightened on religion and spirituality than I am.

But Kalraj Misrha, apparently on the mission to acquire power in U.P, perhaps, thinks that he will be able to fool the people by interpreting Kabir’s message in his own way. To be precise, Kalraj has underestimated the people’s wisdom by offering his explanation of Kabir’s verse. Take it from me that the people of Varanasi will simply laugh at Kalraj’s interpretation and reject his ventures simply because the BJP leader has tried to fool them in the name of great Kabir.

I am not a Mayawati supporter. In fact, I don’t like many of her moves and works. But then Kalraj has chosen wrong allegory to attack her. It will not work with the people who, I think, are wiser than Kalraj. They are capable to sense that Kalraj has taken them as foolish enough to gulp down what he mouths.

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